Witches of Porphyra
This installment of Purple Duck Games‘ player-centric „of Porphyra“-series clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD, leaving us with 46 pages of content, though it should be noted that the pages are formatted for digest-size (6’’ by 9’’ or A5) and thus, you can fit up to 4 of them on a given sheet of paper when printing this out.
All righty, as always, we begin with an array of archetypes, the first of which would be the blooded hag – this one has Charisma as the governing spellcasting attribute, gets spontaneous casting and instead of a patron, the archetype chooses a bloodline, gaining the bloodline’s spells at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Instead of the first level’s hex, the archetype gains the 1st level bloodline power of the bloodline chosen, and, at 4th, 10th and 16th as well as 20th level, the archetype may choose the respective bloodline power instead of a hex, but needs to retain the acquisition order of bloodline powers. They treat these as hexes, which makes me question which save to use – Hexes, per default, are governed by Intelligence, whereas bloodline powers that allow for saves usually have them governed by Charisma. I assume that “they instead treat it as a hex” would mean that the archetype uses Intelligence, but Charisma would make more sense to me. I am also a bit puzzled regarding the familiar question here: As written, the archetype retains the familiar and thus retains the arcane bond component, though, depending on how you picture the bloodline aspect working, it may make a bit less sense. That being said, both complaints are something most GMs should be capable of navigating.
Brewers lose spellcasting and store formulae to prepare extracts in their familiar, but are limited to effects that target at least one creature or object regarding their spell list. They can, furthermore, only prepare extracts duplicating harmless spells or spells with a target of “you.” However, unlike alchemists, the brewer replaces patron spells with the ability to create splash extracts, which must neither be harmless, nor have a target of “you”; additionally, they need to have a fixed number of targets; the extract is treated as an alchemical splash weapon that inflicts 1d3 slashing damage. Single target splash extracts only affect targets directly hit; otherwise, it affects the primary target + a number of squares affected by splash damage equal to the number of targets the spell could normally affect. This modification of the rules-language really made me smile. No, seriously. That’s HARD to pull off properly. This replaces patron spells. The familiar can btw. be affected by mutagens etc. and is treated as an alchemist; 1st level locks the character into the Cauldron hex and 2nd level’s hex is replaced with Throw Anything, adding + Int modifier to damage caused with thrown weapons, including splash damage. The archetype may also choose a variety of discoveries, treating alchemist levels as -2 class levels and codifies properly them as hex, major hex and grand hex equivalents. Complex modification, but one I really enjoy.
The impetuous dervish gets diminished spellcasting and an unchained monk’s flurry of blows with certain limitations; however, starting at 5th level, the archetype may cast a single spell of at least 3 levels lower than the highest spell level available instead of one of the attacks in the flurry, which may then be delivered as a touch attack. Since the ability is restricted to touch attacks, there are no weird interactions here and 8th level unlocks the option to use this flurry in conjunction with a charge attack. This replaces the familiar and the 8th level hex. Once again, a complex and interesting engine tweak.
Next up would be the insufflators. At first level, the archetype has to choose a cone or line; when using a hex that targets a single creature and usually can be used as a standard action, they may choose to spend a full-round action to exhale magical fog in either a 10-ft. cone or 20 ft.-line, depending on the choice made. Instead of normal saves, the targets may negate the hex’s effects via Reflex saves (or halve damage thus incurred). The ability has a 1d4 rounds cooldown and requires being capable of breathing in deeply. This does read much worse than it is – while the area effect and changed save can potentially be very powerful and while personally, I’d make it provoke an attack of opportunity, the need to come very close does actually even out the power of this option a bit. Instead of 2nd level’s hex, the archetype gets Wicked Breath ( a new feat herein) and may use it in the same shape as the aforementioned breath, at + 1 spell level, rather than +3. Here, I am a bit puzzled: Okay, we choose the same shape as the breath ability – but do we use the range of hag’s breath or that of the feat? It’s just +10 ft/+5 ft. range difference, but still. Patron spell gain is delayed by 2 (minimum 1st) levels and the familiar’s effective level is similarly reduced. 4th level provides the option for the archetype to increase the area affected by hag’s breath by +5 ft. or +10 ft., with every 4 levels beyond the 4th allowing the archetype to take this again. This is also added to Wicked Breath’s affected area. A bit of clarification and we have a really amazing archetype here.
Legionmasters replace the 1st level hex with the option to have multiple familiars, but need to spread their levels among the familiars in question: A 5th level character could e.g. have a 3rd level and a 2nd level familiar. Special familiars like patron familiars, improved familiars, etc. cannot be chosen and all familiars must be of the same species, so no stacking of familiar bonuses. For as long as at least one familiar remains alive, the legionmaster will be able to retain spellcasting. At 4th level, 10th and 16th level, the witch increases her level for the purpose of determining the levels that can be assigned to familiars by +2,, replacing the 3 hexes gained at these levels. Nice: The familiar abilities are concisely elaborated upon: You can’t e.g. store one touch spell charge in multiple familiars and both empathic link and scrying is limited to one familiar. Big plus: Limited use pools that familiars may have are addressed – the collective of familiars shares one pool.
Alter hexes and the 8th level hex is lost and instead, the archetype may choose a teamwork feat instead of a hex. One of these teamwork feats may be allocated to familiars each day, with 8th and 16th level providing the option to grant the teamwork feats to more familiars. A lot could have gone wrong here, and I am duly impressed by the care displayed here; the pdf also addresses the summoner/multi-creature-commander conundrum, explicitly acknowledging this.
The mentor archetype gets a variant cohort at 1st level, dubbed an heir. This character is a commoner with Magical Aptitude, upgrading the character to heroic ability scores and 1st level witch at 3rd level, provided the character has a leadership score that’s high enough. Heir exchanges and 7th level Leadership governed by Int are also included. Both mentor and heir have no patron, and thus use a wizard’s spellbook instead; heir gain access to one spell at 2nd level and every even level thereafter the mentor reaches, treating that as the patron spell. 6th level yields the ability for the mentor to assume a fixed familiar form for the heir – kudos: immunity to polymorph is addressed and does not prevent this form. As a capstone, the mentor may ascend to patronhood, upgrading the heir to PC status. I ADORE this archetype. Not only does it resound with occult traditions and how we often picture the teaching of the black arts to work, it has a replacement PC and serious roleplaying potential basically hard-wired into the archetype and feels incredibly RIGHT to me. I love this one. Heck, you could go Krabat and play the heir to a NPC mentor for an interesting one-shot…
Polytheistic witches represent a crossover with the occultist (imho the most underrated Occult Adventures class) and thus begin play with an implement school, with 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter providing another implement. They cast psychic spells and gain the sorceror’s spells per day, but don’t treat spells as on their spell-list unless they have been gained by patron or implement school, with multiple selections of an implement school covered. This severely limited spell array is expanded by the patron pantheon – the witch gains additional pantheons at 2nd, 9th and 15th level, but spells gained from patrons are cast as arcane spells. Instead of 1st level’s hex, the archetype gains mental focus and may invest it in patrons, increasing the CL of the patron’s spells, with a scaling cap provided. Also at 1st level, the archetype gets the base focus power of their implement school, with new implement schools gained also providing the respective base power. Instead of gaining hexes, the archetype may choose to learn a new focus power chosen from the collective of implement school powers available. Additionally, the archetype may, as a standard action, expend 1 point of mental focus assigned to a patron to grant her familiar the patron powers associated with the patron for 1 minute as though it was a patron familiar. Once again, this is one of the archetypes that really makes me smile – it is interesting, plays differently and provides some highly complex rules-operations, pulled off with panache.
The sanguisage gains the kineticist’s burn, except that the familiar takes lethal damage rather than nonlethal damage. The familiar has no limit on the amount of burn it can accept. The familiar may not be archetype’s and loses Alertness, but gains +1 hit point per level of the master. Instead of 1st level’s hex, the familiar gains Toughness. 2nd level provides the option to choose an arcanist arcane exploit, governed by Int, with 4th level and every 2 levels thereafter allowing the archetype to choose whether to learn an exploit or a hex. 12th level unlocks greater exploits. Instead of using arcane reservoir as a resource, exploits are powered by the familiar’s Burn and if an exploit would kill a familiar, the effect is particularly potent. Yeah, it’s actually an archetype that may make exploding the grossly obese and distended familiar a viable option in a pinch – and it reminded me, big time, of Binding of Isaac. That being said, considering the power of arcanist exploits and the greatly expanded uses that the familiar provides, this may not be for all groups, though the concise list of exploits that could result in weirdness and thus is forbidden makes it run pretty smoothly.
The sightless seer expands the spell-list by all divinations from the sorc/wiz-list and is locked into a new familiar presented herein, the matoyasite crystal, which acts as the eyes of the witch, sharing its sight. They are blind and gain a combination of divination-enhancing feats and hexes over the levels, making for a thematically concise option. There would also be the warweaver, who are proficient with simple weapons and a one-handed martial or exotic weapon as well as light armors and bucklers, but still suffers arcane spell failure chance. They get good Ref-saves and ¾ BAB-progression and bad Will-saves. The archetype receives spells per day as though it was a magus, capping at 6th spell level. Patron spells gained are delayed and 3 are not learned at all. To make up for that, they may use Intelligence modifier for a finessable weapon they’re proficient with. Finally, the whitelighter loses all necromancy spells as well as those with the death and evil descriptors and exude an aura of good. Additionally, they may not target a creature with a spell or SP without getting that creature’s permission as a swift action before dong so, including spell-trigger and –completion items. Interaction with spells they’d usually learn, but can’t due to these restrictions is also covered. Finally, both hex and patron choices are limited by the philosophy of the archetype. The archetype is very much defined by the chosen charge, which may be chosen anew each day, with 8th and 16th level providing an additional charge; the charge may transfer this status for 24 hours as a swift action and the whitelighter’s CL is higher when affecting the charge. The archetype gets healing hexes and increases their potency for the charge – all in all, a pretty flavorful option.
Wood witches would constitute the final archetype in the book, using the druid spell list and treating the spells as arcane and is limited in patron selection; however, they can affect plant creatures with touch spells delivered by their familiar as though they were animals or magical beasts. Patron spells are delayed one level. Interesting: At 2nd level and at 10th level, the archetype gains kineticist blasts (wood blast at 2nd, the seasonal blasts at 10th level), but prepares them as spells, getting the translation right – kudos! While infusions may not be added to them, metamagic feats may be added. 4th level nets the Plant domain or a subdomain thereof at cleric -3 levels, using Intelligence as governing attribute; spells thus gained are added to the spell list, but not automatically gained.
The pdf also contains familiar archetypes: Conduit familiars begin play with the option to deliver touch spells, with higher levels providing the option to deliver other spells as well. Kidnapper familiars get Improved Grapple and may later deliver conjuration (teleportation) effects as part of a grapple. Nasty! Messengers may act as a one-way speaker-box. Interesting selection here!
We also get a massive selection of new patrons, all of which include their own patron familiar abilities – kudos! The patrons are Air, beauty, chains, corrosion, desert, filth, force, glass, intellect, mercy, revelry, screams and shelter – and these are well-crafted regarding spell-selection and benefits.
Beyond the aforementioned crystal, the pdf also provides the stats for the hoop snake (yes!), the winged monkey (double yes!) and the TOME OF TEETH familiars. These come with full stats and if none of them made you smile, I don’t know anymore. Seriously. This is damn cool.
The pdf also features a massive array of new hexes – what about cursing foes with dental decay, decreasing the efficiency of their bites and making them take nonlethal damage when biting or eating? Yeah. What about choosing one hex and being able to use it as an AoO? Vomit forth swarms of increasing potency? Causing creatures to sing? Major hexes and grand hexes can also be found here – including the grand hex that steals your breath…literally.
The new feats included feature an option to use hex instead of spell DC for curses (nice!), more efficient use of conductive weapons, combining Arcane Strike and Hex Strike, lacing hexes into spells, using aforementioned Wicked Breath with rys – some interesting options to fill in some holes in the rules here.
The pdf also contains 2 special materials – hauntwood and matoysite, also known as sightstone – both of these materials not only are explained in a compelling and well-written manner, they make sense – meaningful and nice. The pdf also included Kabal Dunedusk, a sample khvostik polkan witch with the insufflate archetype. The NPC clocks in at CR 11 and comes with a boon for the PCs to gain.
The pdf comes with a bonus-pdf penned by Mark Gedak, which depicts the bladeleaf, a CR nasty fey that is naturally invisible, poisonous and capable of creating a slashing storm of leaves…oh, and they are good archers. Ouch! Nice, lethal little buggers!
Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level– which precious few very minor exceptions, this supplement is precise, concise and frankly, even when it sports a minor ambiguity, it is usually one that can be resolved easily. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’s 1-column standard sans background (printer-friendly!), with purple highlights. The pdf sports a blend of old and new full color artworks. The pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation quick and precise.
Onyx Tanuki’s first stand-alone book is significantly more impressive than I expected; while there are a few minor hiccups herein, the book managed to do something I did not expect: It honestly managed to excite me. I have seen a LOT of witch-options and this one sports some truly amazing, intriguing ones that simply haven’t been done before. More than that, even the engine-tweaks offer for meaningful changes of the overall playing experience, which is a big plus in my book; similarly, the engine-tweak-style archetypes don’t settle for simple cookie-cutter designs, instead opting for complex rules-operations of pretty high difficulty levels. And the best thing is that, for the vast majority of the content, the pdf gets these perfectly RIGHT. In short, this is a great class-centric pdf and for the low asking price, it provides a LOT of worthwhile, cool material.
Now, usually the minor hiccups would make me rate this at 4.5 stars, rounded up. If you’re really picky about minor ambiguities, that’s what you’ll probably think of this pdf. However, this little pdf actually managed to excite me, to make me want to play a variety of the options herein – considering the material I’ve seen, that does mean something. Moreover, it never went the easy road; it doesn’t sport bland filler that anyone could do – this is honest design work that probably is beyond the skills of many GMs out there, juggling complex concepts and rules-operations. And yes, I tried hard to poke holes into this. The fact that it manages to hold up this well in the face of me poking it bespeaks of quality – it’s one thing to see basic rules-language integrity; it’s another beast to see complex operations performed with panache.
In short: I really like this pdf. It is one of my favorites in the whole series. Add to that the freshman bonus and we arrive at a file that is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. If you like the witch class and want to do something novel and fun with it, then check this out – it is one of the best 3pp-option books for the class out there.
You can get this damn cool witch-expansion here on OBS!
You can directly support Purple Duck games here on patreon!